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Former Guerilla Leader Inaugurated as Governor of Indonesia's Aceh Province


A former guerilla leader during Indonesia's 30-year-long Aceh rebellion is the province's new governor. The inauguration of Irwandi Yusuf is another step in cementing the 2005 peace agreement that ended the bloody conflict between the government and the former Free Aceh Movement rebels. Jocelyn Ford reports from the provincial capital, Banda Aceh.

At his inauguration Thursday, former separatist guerilla leader Irwandi Yusuf and others sang the Indonesian national anthem.

Wearing a formal white governor's uniform, he took an oath promising to meet his obligations as governor of the province.

The 46-year-old former military strategist for the rebel Free Aceh Movement was elected in a landslide victory last December.

The elections were part of the 2005 peace agreement that ended 30 years of conflict that was fought over control of natural resources, human rights and ethnic identity. The Indonesian government agreed in the treaty to give Aceh, on the northern tip of Sumatra Island, considerable autonomy.

Dino Djalil, Spokesman for Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, pledged to support Irwandi as he tackles such issues as rebuilding areas destroyed by the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, and helping former rebels of the Free Aceh Movement, known as GAM, return to civilian life.

"The two leaders share a vision of what needs to be done in Aceh," he said. "Namely, the reintegration of former GAM members into Aceh society, governance, and the people's welfare. So those three issues will bind the central government and the government in Aceh under Irwandi Yusuf together."

Irwandi's path to the governorship was unusual. When the tsunami struck, he was serving a nine-year prison sentence for rebellion.

He escaped death by punching his way through a prison ceiling. He then fled Indonesia, and helped with the peace negotiations in Helsinki that led to the treaty.

He says his top priorities as governor include fighting corruption, and improving the lives of the four million Acehnese.

"First, clean government, anti-corruption policy," he said. "And then what I want to do is improve the economy of the grassroot people, and I want to see the result very quickly. I want to know the grassroot people can feel the difference, before and after."

Irwandi also wants to make the first 12 years of schooling completely free, including books and school uniforms.

Under the peace accord, Aceh will have the money to devote to social welfare. The agreement promises the province 70 percent of the income from its natural gas and other resources.